Choosing the Right Toothbrush: A Dentist’s 3 Simple Rules

Don’t fall for all the fancy marketing lingo.

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Toothbrushes today look like gadgets from the future: sleek, motorized, and cutting edge. It’s hard to remember the concept of the toothbrush is 5,000 years old, according to the American Dental Association (ADA).

The toothbrush started when ancient civilizations would gnaw on twigs called a “chew stick” and over time the toothbrush evolved to use bone, wood, ivory, and—eventually—today’s design of plastic handles and nylon bristles.

With all of today’s brushes, promising things like “crossaction cleaning” and “soft gliding tips,” how do you choose the best one? Which toothbrush is better: “deep clean” or “precision clean”?

Before you get bogged down with all those marketing terms, take these tips from Jennifer Jablow, DDS, dentist in New York City.

1. Sonic beats manual.

“There is absolutely no comparison between the cleaning [and] stain removal of a sonic toothbrush versus a manual brush,” says Dr. Jablow.

Manual brushes can provide a good cleaning and may be effective—especially if you follow other good oral hygiene habits such as brushing twice a day, flossing daily, and avoiding sugary foods that may cause cavities.

However, in side-by-side comparisons, powered toothbrushes consistently score better marks than manual ones. In a 2015 study, both sonic and manual toothbrushes were able to reduce plaque levels, but the sonic brushes reduced about 10 percent more than the manual ones, on average.

Not all powered toothbrushes earn “sonic” status: “For it to be called sonic, it has to have at least 30,000 strokes per minute,” says Dr. Jablow. “Even before you put it against the tooth surface, the sonic waves and the sonic pulsation actually break up the plaque that’s sitting on your teeth that a manual brush can never get.”

2. Electric spin brushes may be too harsh.

Another common powered toothbrush is the type with a small, round, spinning head. Dr. Jablow is not a fan. “[These spin brushes] can actually pull away the very gentle fibrous tissues that attach your gum to your teeth,” says Dr. Jablow. “I’d rather you use a sonic toothbrush that looks more like the head of a regular toothbrush because that’s more natural on your teeth and much more gentle.”

3. Avoid hard bristles.

When you have gunk buildup in your sink or bathtub, you might buy a steel wool sponge to clean it out. Something tough and abrasive might be the only thing to get out the mildew. But when it comes to your teeth, this approach is *not* recommended.

“If you’re using a manual toothbrush, you want to make sure you don’t use a medium or hard toothbrush,” says Dr. Jablow. Choose a manual toothbrush with soft bristles. (Sonic toothbrushes already come with soft bristles.)

The problem with hard bristles is that they can actually wear away the tooth’s enamel. The enamel is the hard outer covering made of calcified tissue on each tooth, according to the ADA. The enamel does not contain living cells, so it cannot repair itself (unlike your skin or other organs).

Using a toothbrush with hard bristles, or brushing too hard, may cause you to lose your tooth’s enamel, which makes your teeth more vulnerable to temperature sensitivity, staining, cavities, and tooth decay.

Whether you choose a manual or powered toothbrush, remember to brush twice a day for two minutes a day, change your brush every three to four months, and let your brush air dry between cleanings. Here are more tips for caring for your toothbrush.